Yeltsin can resume full activity after operation, DeBakey says Heart surgeon reassures worried Russians after decision to delay bypass

September 26, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin is able to have heart bypass surgery that will restore him to "normal activity," his surgeons said yesterday.

But Russia will effectively be without a fully active leader for at least four months while the president is confined to a hospital or government health resort in preparation for and recovery from the triple or quadruple bypass.

The decision to operate dispelled the major worry that Yeltsin's health might be too far gone even to allow the surgery -- a situation that would leave the nation with an incapacitated leader who might have to resign.

Doctors explained that the surgery Yeltsin had wanted to undergo by next week would be postponed six to 10 weeks because his heart muscle is damaged and needs to heal.

Dr. Renat Akchurin, head of Yeltsin's surgical team, said he had told Yeltsin that if the operation were performed now, the chance of success would be just 80 percent, while in six weeks it will be almost 100 percent.

He said Yeltsin took the news "courageously and calmly."

"I am very encouraged to tell you that the operation is needed and it should provide an excellent result," said Dr. Michael DeBakey, the American pioneer of heart bypass surgery invited here to consult with Yeltsin's medical team.

"There is no reason why the president shouldn't be restored to full normal activity," said DeBakey, who plans to return for the operation.

The announcement came after a three-hour meeting by top Russian heart surgeons and DeBakey at the hospital where Yeltsin is staying.

DeBakey said Yeltsin's heart was damaged and the seriousness of a heart attack he suffered in June was unclear. However, he said the heart muscle showed "considerable, significant improvement" over the past month.

Yeltsin also had lost blood during the past month because of internal bleeding, apparently from his intestines, the result of taking aspirin after the heart attack, DeBakey said. Yeltsin's lungs, liver and kidneys showed no serious problems, the doctors said.

"In the envelope between about a month ago, when he may have had the damage to his myocardium [heart muscle], there has been a significant improvement in muscular function," DeBakey said.

"This gives us good justification for prolonging this period of rehabilitation program to improve his condition and get him in better shape for the operation."

Russian stocks, which had plunged 8 percent this week on fears about Yeltsin's worsening condition, surged 3 percent after the doctors' announcement today.

Though the decision to operate "creates relief" about Yeltsin's overall condition, "it also creates political problems because a 10-week delay in the operation and a two-month recovery raises the question of whether he should hand over temporarily his power," said political analyst Andrei Piontkowski.

Yeltsin has already effectively handed day-to-day presidential duties to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin by giving him temporary control over the so-called "power ministries" of defense and intelligence.

Chernomyrdin is to assume full presidential powers for a brief period during Yeltsin's surgery. If Yeltsin were to die or become incapacitated, under vague guidelines set by the Russian constitution, the prime minister would take over for three months and then call a presidential election.

The Kremlin has lied repeatedly to cover up Yeltsin's ill health and clearly needed the internationally respected DeBakey to offer credibility to its "new openness" policy.

Russians and the international community have been hanging on his every word.

Piontkowski suggested that there is little reason to doubt DeBakey's overall optimism, because "he has his reputation to protect."

But Piontkowski said DeBakey was "out of his sphere of competence" in suggesting that Yeltsin can perform presidential duties and function mentally as if he were in the Kremlin.

A hospitalized Yeltsin is sure to prompt angry demands by the Communist-led opposition for the president to resign. The Communists already have called for the president to step down if his workload has to be cut.

It is uncertain just how popular that kind of political attack will be, said Vyatcheslav Tetekin, a political strategist for nationalist factions in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

"Certainly, the health of the No. 1 leader of the nation is important, but it's become a mania or phobia of the press and it seems inhuman," he said.

"So, it's the feeling of some opposition politicians who don't particularly like Yeltsin that they are not yet prepared to ask for his resignation."

Indeed, added Piontkowski, Yeltsin's illness is likely to provoke public sympathy that could head off an all-out call by political rivals for his resignation.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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